As a follow-on to our prior March 29 update, Supply Chain Matters provides added highlights along with supply chain and product management perspectives relative to the global-wide grounding of the Boeing 787 MAX aircraft.

In our prior update, we had highlighted that Boeing had unveiled a software patch, that addressed changes in the aircraft’s flight controls, modification of the operation of the aircraft’s automated Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system, andBoeing 737 MAX 8 a means for pilots to gain additional training on interactions with the anti-stall software system. With the proposed software patch, the MCAS system would rely on the readings of two ‘angle of attack’ sensors as opposed to one in the original design. Additional training will be provided to pilots, reportedly tablet based, as opposed to simulator based.

On Monday of this week, with receipt of additional data from regulatory agencies, Boeing elected to take some additional time in review of the proposed remediation efforts.


Three Added Developments

Today, reported preliminary readouts of the Black Box data related to the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy provide more concerning information. Citing informed sources, The Wall Street Journal reports that investigators believe that the pilots of the ill-fated 737 MAX aircraft apparently followed established emergency procedures related to the suspect MCAS system, but unfortunately, failed to recover the aircraft. The pilots responded to the emergency by turning-off power to the automated system, but reportedly re-engaged the system to cope with a steep nose-down dive. A faulty sensor is also suspected.

According to the WSJ report: The sequence of events, still subject to further evaluation by investigators, calls into question assertions that Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration over the past five months that by simply following established procedures to turn-off the suspected stall-prevention feature, called MCAS, pilots could overcome a misfire of the system and avoid ending in a crash.

In a separate report, Bloomberg reported this week that a faulty sensor on the ill-fated Lion Air tragedy was repaired at a certified maintenance repair station operated by a U.S. aircraft maintenance firm. The subject sensor was reportedly overhauled in Miramar Florida, and then shipped to Bali, where it was installed on the Lion Air aircraft, after pilots on a previous flight had reported problems with the MCAS system. Indonesian air safety officials have been seeking additional data from the Florida component repair facility. The report alleges that the sensor was not working from the time it was installed and that U.S. teams are further assisting to ensure that there were not additional defective “angle of attack” sensors in the supply chain.

Ethiopian investigators have yet to recover the sensors involved in the latest crash.

And, earlier in the week, the WSJ published yet a separate report alluding to the initial perspectives of this blog, that as Boeing has increasingly depended on order growth from emerging markets hungry for expanded air travel, the plane maker has to focus on safeguards not only aimed at U.S. based pilots, but further engineer aircraft with more automated systems that can aide relatively inexperienced pilots across the globe, who on-average have significantly less flight experience. According to this report: “As recently as early March, the FAA and Boeing were still arguing over how much training pilots should receive in the new system, according to people briefed on the talks. The FAA ultimately prevailed in its insistence that pilots receive interactive training on laptops and other devices.


What Could be Next

Boeing’s decision to take additional time in designed fixes, in light of this added information, was wise.

From our lens, the Bloomberg report adds the supply dimension of sensor hardware component repair as an issue that warrants additional investigative analysis.

The added information emanating from the recent reported flight data of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster adds a new dimension that will warrant additional investigation as to the need for multiple sensor inputs, and to additional testing of the proposed software fix. Added pilot training is becoming far more obvious and Boeing’s positioning that the MAX required minimal training is wearing rather thin. We would not be surprised that added simulator training for deemed inexperience pilots enters the ongoing stream of regulator oversight.

This week, the narrative has indeed changed to one of added time required to complete ongoing investigations, and for Boeing to assure global regulators that all proper measures have been identified and this aircraft will indeed be safe to fly for years to come. That could well extend this crisis several additional months.

For Boeing’s supply network partners, and for Boeing’s internal 737 manufacturing teams, the scenario is turning to preparing for a longer supply chain disruption, and with that, the operational and financial implications.

Stay tuned.


Bob Ferrari

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